TBT: D.C. Field Trip

In early spring 2001, Emily joined classmates on an 8th grade field trip to New York City and Washington, D.C. Here, she and her friends pose in front of the White House, one of the few pictures that survived a camera melt down.

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I’m not sure if this field trip was really about exploring two important U.S. cities or if it was about missing school to go on vacation WITH friends and WITHOUT parents. Whatever the reason, I’m glad Emily got to experience both cities before so much changed a few months later.

This week we planned another trip with Emily and Brian. This time to Boston, another iconic U.S. city…can hardly wait.

Any suggestions on what we must do in Boston, in June? Leave a comment and help us plan!

 

Hiking the Ocklawaha Prairie

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The plan for Saturday morning was to hike through the Ocklawaha Prairie to a boardwalk for what we hoped would be a morning of photographing wildlife.

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John had a backpack loaded with a spotting scope, binoculars, tripod and camera and we started out for the boardwalk trail along the Ocklawaha River.

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An incredible magnolia tree meets hikers just across from the trail head where we picked up a map. We’ll have to make another trip in a couple months just to see this enormous tree in full bloom.

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Construction on the bridge caused a change of plans since the boardwalk trail was inaccessible.

While the trail was mostly dry, there was one area where we had to cross a small steam. Too wide to jump across, several pieces of downed trees had been fashioned into a bridge by previous hikers so we could cross without plodding through the water.

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We followed the white diamonds indicating a multi-use trail for hikers, bicyclists and those on horseback. It appears this is a popular trail for horseback riders, evident by the need to keep your eyes on the trail to avoid the gifts their horses left behind.

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We were even surprised to find a campsite with a picnic table, fire pit and well on the river for campers willing to backpack in from the trail or by boat.

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Our new plan didn’t result in any wildlife sightings, but the five mile hike was a good way to start the day. Only a few minutes from home, we’ll definitely be back.

The Ocklawaha Prairie is located at 7910 SE 137 Avevue Road, Ocklawaha, FL.

Warning: While we had no problem with mosquitoes on a warm March morning, this place looks like it will be mosquito heaven in another month or so.

Go Go G.O.E.S.

Complete the application, pay the fee, make an appointment, get interviewed…pass GO and speed through the airport skipping most of the lines.

Well, at least that’s how it’s explained by U.S. Customs. Successfully completing  the G.O.E.S. (Global Online Enrollment System) process enables travelers to be designated with the status of Trusted Traveler, and as such makes it possible to pass through customs in under 60 seconds. (I can only hope!)

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With two international trips planned for 2016, it seemed like G.O.E.S. should be pursued. So what’s involved?

  1. Set up a GOES account.
  2. Complete the application online.
  3. Pay a $100 application fee.
  4. Schedule an appointment for an interview.
  5. Complete the interview, get fingerprinted and have your photo taken.

If approved, a Trusted Traveler card arrives in the mail with instructions for activation.

The application was relatively simple to complete and while dishing out $100 was not pleasant, since Trusted Traveler benefits last for 5 years, it’s really a small price to pay to make the airport experience more pleasant. And the benefits extend to traveling within the U.S. as well as internationally.

Have you ever fumed while standing in a long line waiting for everyone to empty pockets, take off shoes, remove laptops from bags and take off jackets and belts for the TSA screening? Ever notice the nearly empty line of travelers walking through security wearing their shoes and belts without removing coats or laptops? Well, that’s another benefit. Trusted travelers qualify for the TSA Pre-Check program.

It’s official, I passed the background check and interview. My Global Entry card arrived in the mail. I’m anxious to put my card to work. I can hardly wait to be the envy of those barefoot travelers wondering what makes me so special.

For more information on Global Entry: cbp.com or Trusted Traveler Programs: dhs.gov

 

 

What’s Happening in April?

NCAA Frozen Four Ice Hockey Championship – Tampa

April 7 & 9

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Frozen and Florida don’t usually appear in the same phrase, but this year Tampa hosts one of the brackets of the NCAA Men’s Division I hockey championship. This is a great opportunity to see high quality collegiate hockey in the Sunshine State.

Worm Gruntin’ Festival – Sopchoppy

April 9

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Starting at 7:00am and not concluding until 10:00pm, the Worm Grunting’ Festival provides a full day of activities beginning with a 5K and including art, craft, and food vendors and a worm grunting demonstration by Snap Revell. Live music will add to the fun throughout the afternoon, and the day concludes with the Worm Grunters’ Ball so don’t forget your dancing shoes.

Florida Blueberry Festival – Brooksville

April 16-17

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With live music, street entertainment, a kids zone, a wine bar and a beer garden, it sounds like the Blueberry Festival’s covered all bases. The events begin Saturday morning and continue until 4:00 Sunday afternoon. And of course, this is the place for blueberry muffins, blueberry ice cream, blueberry honey and baskets of fresh berries.

23rd Annual Downtown Crawfish Festival – Tallahassee

April 23

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Located in the state’s capital, the Downtown Crawfish Festival celebrates seafood and New Orleans style music. Live musical performances, eating competitions, a kids’ activity center and a group of featured chefs  add to the fun of a crawfish boil.

Sunfest 2016 – West Palm Beach

April 27- May 1

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Since 1982, the first weekend of May has been the time for Sunfest, the largest waterfront music and art festival in Florida. Fifty bands will be playing on three stages over the five days of the festival including Alabama Shakes, Duran Duran, and The Roots. The art show runs Friday – Sunday and there’s even a 5K.

Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival – Fernandina Beach

April 28-May 1

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This annual celebration of Fernandina Beach’s history in shrimping includes a Miss Shrimp Pageant, a Pirate Parade, a boat parade and a riverfront fireworks show. This is the place to be for all shrimp lovers.

 

 

Easter Amazement

We’re rarely on the road on Easter. Even when Spring Break concludes on Easter, we’re usually back home for church on Sunday.

Twice we’ve been in Miami and have attended Easter services at Coral Gables Congrgational Church, John’s home church for about a fifteen years.

Easter Sunday, 1986, Meghan posed (I guess you can call that a pose) by the cross so her Granny could get a picture.

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This picture is one of my favorites because of the look of amazement on Meghan’s face. After all, that perfectly explains Easter…amazement.

Bike Art

Parked in front of the Tax Collector’s Office in Palatka, I noticed a painted bike with flowers in the basket across the street so I jumped out of the car to get a better look.

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As I turned to go back to the car I saw another bike down the street so of course I decided to investigate further.

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Across the street, a blue bike with a basket full of flowers. And further down, more bikes.

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I had gone down a rabbit hole looking for the brightly painted bicycle planters adding a little fun to downtown Palatka.

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Several children’s bikes and tricycles were included in the bike art.

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There were even a few that looked like they were still works in progress, either lacking plants or paint.

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Finally I came across an interesting bike rack with a boldly painted message:

Bike Palatka

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This is a city ready to embrace the Palatka-Lake Butler Trail under development as well as the Palatka-St. Augustine Trail. Or maybe they’re just preparing for the upcoming Palatka Bicycle Festival on April 9-10. In any case, the bikes got my attention.

Azalea Trail

Since we would be meeting our daughter in Palatka on Monday to return her dog after a weekend of dog sitting, we decided to spend some time at Ravine Gardens State Park. It seemed like a good opportunity to take a hike in the garden known for its azaleas.

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Unlike most Florida parks, the trails at Ravine Gardens include stairs to accommodate the step drops along the ravine as well as a couple of suspension bridges. The trail also commemorates William Bartram’s eighteenth century travels in Florida.

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We decided on the Azalea Trail instead of the Spring Trail in hopes of being immersed in flowers. We certainly saw our share of blooming plants along the trail, but we obviously missed the peak season.

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On March 4-6, the park held its annual Azalea Days festival, the 70th year of this event. From what we saw, the festival was timed perfectly for the maximum color from their more than 100,000 flowering plants.

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Even on the Azalea Trail, we passed the spring, a stream and pond.

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And how does a tree grow like this? Looking for a short, two mile trail that’s in a beautiful and unusual setting? Then Ravine Gardens Park may be the place for you.

 

 

Spring Break = Spring Training

 

My first spring training experience occurred during Spring Break the year we moved to Pompano Beach. The Washington Senators drew huge crowds anxious to see the Cy Young award winning pitcher, Denny McLain, and the team’s coach, the legendary Ted Williams.

Then as a high school student at Pompano Beach High School, it wasn’t unusual to return to the student parking lot after lunch to find no available spaces. Our student parking lot was across the street from Pompano Municipal Stadium, the spring home of the Texas Rangers. And despite the fact students purchased parking passes, our lot was too tempting to baseball fans anxious to watch their teams in action. From February until the first pitch of opening day, Spring Training was a way of life.

With two weeks remaining in the MLB spring training season, there’s a lot of baseball on the calendar. Fifteen teams will be competing in cities from Kissimmee to Clearwater to Jupiter to Ft. Myers…but no longer in Pompano. In the final thirteen days of the Grapefruit League season, 83 games will be played (click here for the schedule), so there’s plenty of time to see a couple of the teams in action.

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For complete details on Florida Grapefruit League games at your fingertips, you can download the app which includes detailed information about teams including the daily schedule.

Check the schedule and catch a game! After all, in Florida, Spring Break = Spring Training.

 

 

 

Spring Break is Spring Time: 9 Springs You Need to Visit

For the first time in more than fifty years the words Spring Break don’t have the same meaning. Since 1964, I’ve either been a student or a teacher looking forward to the days away from school, not only a well deserved and needed break from the routine of academic activities, but also as a time to enjoy doing something outdoors.

I don’t remember being disappointed during Spring Break as a student. In middle school anything outside and with friends seemed absolutely perfect. In high school, living less than two miles from Pompano Beach guaranteed a good time and returning to South Florida with friends during college was the definition of Spring Break.

However while the time off was appreciated, as a teacher the week rarely lived up to the anticipation. This may be because we frequently planned camping trips in the Panhandle or farther north only to be faced with cool or cold or rainy weather and not enough time in the sunshine outside. Even when we vowed to only head south we were frequently disappointed with rainy and windy and sometimes cold weather after spending too much on high priced accomodations in popular south Florida locales.

Now that any week can serve as Spring Break, the answer to the Spring Break getaway seems simple. Relax. Don’t over plan. Don’t spend a lot of money. Living in Florida, the options are numerous. Spring Break is the perfect time for day trips especially to our state’s springs.

Florida’s Best Springs for Spring Break :

DeLeon Springs State Park

Make and eat pancakes at Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Gridlehouse and then take a swim in the spring or drive a few miles down the road to Orange Springs and visit Blue Springs State Park and look for manatee.

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Eat pancakes at DeLeon Springs State Park
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Look for manatee from the boardwalk at Blue Springs

Weeki Wache Springs State Park

Rent a canoe or kayak and paddle down the river at Weeki Wachee Springs or if mermaids are more your style, go in the park and watch the mermaid show.

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Rent a canoe or kayak at Weeki Wache

Silver Springs State Park

Ride the glass bottom boat at Silver Springs or this is another place you can go for a short canoe trip. This is also a great place for a picnic lunch followed by ice cream at Paradise Treats.

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Glass bottom boat tours are $11 for adult and $10 for seniors and children

Alexander Springs Recreation Area

Snorkle in Alexander Springs, part of the Ocala National Forest. Since it’s a spring, the water temperature is 72° year round so it’s nearly perfect. This is also a great place for a cookout either before or after you get in the water.

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Swim, snorkel and cookout at Alexander Springs

Gemini Springs and Green Springs

Bike from Gemini Springs to Green Springs and enjoy the parks. Swimming is not permitted in either spring but they’re both beautiful bodies of water and there are trails to walk and a picnic area at Gemini Springs. The length of the Spring to Spring Trail is 17 miles, but the section that connects these two parks is less than 5 miles one way.

Rainbow Springs State Park

Visit the spring head and then go tubing down the Rainbow River. Tubers are not permitted to enter the headsprings, but canoes and kayaks can be rented in the park and swimming is allowed in the spring as well. Tube rentals are available at K.P Hole. Click here for more information on tubing the Rainbow River.

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Juniper Springs

Located in the Ocala National Forest, the 7.3 mile run at Juniper Springs is not recommended for beginners, but it is not a difficult paddle since you’re moving with the current. The most difficult part of the trip is navigating around low lying trees and brush. Pick up is included with the cost of a canoe rental. Make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks since the trip may take up to 4 hours.

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Homosassa  Springs Wildlife State Park

Manatee are the stars at Homosassa Springs since they swim around the people in the park’s fish bowl underwater observatory or should that be people bowl? There are three manatee shows daily and the park’s home to a number of Florida species, and don’t forget to take a ride on the boat tour…it’s included in the price of admission. There’s even an egg hunt on Saturday, March 26th at 8:00.

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Spring Break is spring time in Florida.

Spring into Spring

Tomorrow is March 20th, the first official day of spring! Time to put away coats, gloves and boots. Time to prepare for extra daylight after work. Time to create a spring checklist.

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40 Things to do this Spring:

  • Fly a kite
  • Picnic in a park
  • Buy a new bathing suit
  • Walk barefoot
  • Lie in a hammock
  • Enjoy time on the porch
  • Watch a baseball game on opening day April 3rd. The Tampa Bay Rays play at home at 4:05 if you want to watch in person. (Click here for opening day schedule.)
  • Eat outside
  • Take a hike
  • Splash in the puddles
  • Play golf
  • Take a spring break trip to the beach

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  • Plant flowers
  • Pick strawberries
  • Buy a pair of sandals
  • Complete a spring cleaning project
  • Open the windows
  • Look for four leaf clovers
  • Dye eggs
  • Read poetry
  • Drink a mint julep and eat a slice of Derby Pie (Click here for Derby Pie recipe.)

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  • Celebrate mom
  • Watch March Madness and celebrate if any of your bracket teams survive
  • Watch for rainbows
  • Run a marathon…or better yet, watch the Boston Marathon on April 18th
  • Check out a book for the library. National Library Week 2016: April 10-16
  • Pick blueberries

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  • Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
  • Plant a tree
  • Drink a margarita on Cinco de Mayo
  • Play a round of miniature golf
  • Go for a sail
  • Commemorate Memorial Day
  • Ride your bike to work or school
  • Visit a garden
  • Go for a paddle

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Eat salsa and guacamole

Take a hot air balloon ride

Get a pedicure

Thank a teacher, Teacher Appreciation Day: May 3rd

And of course, celebrate the religious days in spring:

Palm Sunday: Today, March 20th

Maundy Thursday: March 24th

Good Friday: March 25th

Easter: March 27th

Passover: April 22nd-April 30th